England’s Rugby Football Union (RFU) has reportedly unveiled plans for the national rugby union team to start playing an annual home Test match away from their traditional base, Twickenham Stadium.
According to multiple reports in the British media, the first game will be one of England’s 2019 Rugby World Cup warm-up matches against Ireland or Wales. The fixture is likely to be played in Manchester or Newcastle as part of a wider plan to broaden support for the game in different parts of the country.
Excluding World Cups, England last played a home Test match outside of London in 1997, when they faced New Zealand at Manchester United’s Old Trafford stadium.
According to the Telegraph newspaper, the RFU has previously been reluctant to take England games away from Twickenham because it would halve the revenues generated from home matches to UK£5 million.
“Clearly there’s a high demand for games at Twickenham but we need to get the balance right,” said RFU chief executive Steve Brown. “There’s a good chance we’ll start to see us playing in different parts of the country.
“It isn’t just Manchester, it could be other parts of the country. There are some real heartlands in the north-east and the north-west. There’s competition with football and rugby league at the community level but there’s great history there.
“Clubs like Sale and Newcastle have great connections with the community. The game needs to go to a different part of the country. It doesn’t have to be a football stadium but we had 55,000 for Uruguay in the World Cup. That’s the scale that we’ll be looking at. Some of the cities, particularly Manchester, are very interested in having more rugby union. Newcastle are very keen as well.
“The other thing is to make it a regular feature. We don’t want it to just be a one off and that’s the challenge. An autumn Test could be an option.
“If we were to take a call to reduce our income, that’s less money to put back into the game. It’s a balancing act. We have to look at having that game as an investment to increase interest and participation.”